The United Methodist Church recently concluded a study of more than 32,000 Methodist congregations across North America, seeking the "key factors impacting vital congregations." The study surveyed everybody from bishops to district superintendents to people in the pews.Every time I hear the results of these studies, I am un-surprised that they almost always point out the obvious answers. They also are things that in my experience the church leaders, etc. have been saying and urging for years and years and years.
Working with New York-based Towers Watson consultants, researchers constructed a "vitality index" to measure each church and concluded "that all kinds of UMC churches are vital -- small, large, across geographies, and church setting."
The report identified four key areas that fuel vitality: small groups and programs; worship services that mix traditional and contemporary styles with an emphasis on relevant sermons; pastors who work hard on mentorship and cultivation of the laity; and an emphasis on effective lay leadership.
These four factors "are consistent regardless of church size, predominant ethnicity, and jurisdiction," the study concluded.
Therefore, I wonder if we are not looking at the wrong churches. Maybe we should look at the myriad churches who are not growing and may in fact be dying to see what they are doing to keep themselves small. The problem would be in naming such churches because they will almost invariably believe they are doing what they should be doing for themselves. The problem with those churches is often they blame others, the culture, etc. for the lack of growth.
Studies of growing churches will not help. Studies of dying churches will point out problems. Only in finding ways to motivate and energize the dying churches will we truly come to an understanding of why things are the way they are in so many churches.